Waverley Abbey

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Waverley Abbey
Waverley Abbey 03.jpg
The ruins of Waverley Abbey
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Location within Surrey
Monastery information
Full nameThe Abbey of the Blessed Mary of Waverley
Order Cistercian
Mother house L'Aumône Abbey, Normandy, France
Dedicated toSt Mary
Founder(s) William Giffard, Bishop of Winchester
Location Borough of Waverley, Surrey, England
Coordinates 51°12′00″N0°45′36″W / 51.200°N 0.760°W / 51.200; -0.760
Visible remainsRuins
Public accessYes: Free of Charge
Managed by English Heritage

Coordinates: 51°12′00″N0°45′36″W / 51.200°N 0.760°W / 51.200; -0.760

Geographic coordinate system Coordinate system

A geographic coordinate system is a coordinate system that enables every location on Earth to be specified by a set of numbers, letters or symbols. The coordinates are often chosen such that one of the numbers represents a vertical position and two or three of the numbers represent a horizontal position; alternatively, a geographic position may be expressed in a combined three-dimensional Cartesian vector. A common choice of coordinates is latitude, longitude and elevation. To specify a location on a plane requires a map projection.


Waverley Abbey was the first Cistercian abbey in England. [1] It was founded in 1128 by William Giffard, Bishop of Winchester. Located in Farnham, Surrey, about 2 miles (3.2 km) southeast of the town centre, the abbey is situated on a floodplain, surrounded by current and previous channels of the River Wey. It was damaged on more than one occasion by severe flooding, resulting in rebuilding in the 13th century. Despite being the first Cistercian abbey in England, and being motherhouse to several other abbeys, Waverley was "slenderly endowed" and its monks are recorded as having endured poverty and famine.

Abbey monastery or convent, under the authority of an abbot or an abbess

An abbey is a complex of buildings used by members of a religious order under the governance of an abbot or abbess. It provides a place for religious activities, work, and housing of Christian monks and nuns.

England Country in north-west Europe, part of the United Kingdom

England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to the west and Scotland to the north. The Irish Sea lies west of England and the Celtic Sea to the southwest. England is separated from continental Europe by the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south. The country covers five-eighths of the island of Great Britain, which lies in the North Atlantic, and includes over 100 smaller islands, such as the Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight.

William Giffard 11th and 12th-century Bishop of Winchester and Chancellor of England

William Giffard (d. 23 January 1129, was the Lord Chancellor of England of William II and Henry I, from 1093 to 1101, and Bishop of Winchester.

The abbey was suppressed in 1536 as part of King Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries. Subsequently, largely demolished, its stone was reused in local buildings, likely including "Waverley Abbey House", which was built in 1723 in the northern portion of the former abbey precinct.

Henry VIII of England 16th-century King of England

Henry VIII was King of England from 1509 until his death in 1547. He was the second Tudor monarch, succeeding his father Henry VII. Henry is best known for his six marriages, in particular his efforts to have his first marriage annulled. His disagreement with the Pope on the question of such an annulment led Henry to initiate the English Reformation, separating the Church of England from papal authority. He appointed himself the Supreme Head of the Church of England and dissolved convents and monasteries, for which he was excommunicated. Henry is also known as "the father of the Royal Navy"; he invested heavily in the Navy, increasing its size greatly from a few to more than 50 ships.

Dissolution of the Monasteries legal event which disbanded religious residences in England, Wales and Ireland

The Dissolution of the Monasteries, sometimes referred to as the Suppression of the Monasteries, was the set of administrative and legal processes between 1536 and 1541 by which Henry VIII disbanded monasteries, priories, convents and friaries in England, Wales and Ireland, appropriated their income, disposed of their assets, and provided for their former personnel and functions. Although the policy was originally envisaged as increasing the regular income of the Crown, much former monastic property was sold off to fund Henry's military campaigns in the 1540s. He was given the authority to do this in England and Wales by the Act of Supremacy, passed by Parliament in 1534, which made him Supreme Head of the Church in England, thus separating England from Papal authority, and by the First Suppression Act (1535) and the Second Suppression Act (1539).

Waverley Abbey House, the ruins of the abbey and the surrounding land are all part of a conservation area. The house is a Grade II* Listed building and the ruins a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

The ruins of the abbey are currently managed by English Heritage and open to the public.

English Heritage charity responsible for the National Heritage Collection of England

English Heritage is a charity that manages over 400 historic monuments, buildings and places. These include prehistoric sites, medieval castles, Roman forts and country houses. The charity states that it uses these properties to ‘bring the story of England to life for over 10 million people each year’.


Waverley Abbey was founded by Bishop William Giffard on 24 November 1128. The first abbot and 12 monks were brought from L'Aumône Abbey in Normandy, France. [2]

Abbot Religious title

Abbot, meaning father, is an ecclesiastical title given to the male head of a monastery in various traditions, including Christianity. The office may also be given as an honorary title to a clergyman who is not the head of a monastery. The female equivalent is abbess.

L’Aumône Abbey is a former Cistercian monastery in the commune of La Colombe, Loir-et-Cher, France, 34 kilometres north of Blois in the Forêt de Cîteaux, part of the Forêt de Marchenoir.

Normandy Administrative region of France

Normandy is the northwesternmost of the 18 regions of France, roughly referring to the historical Duchy of Normandy.

Giffard endowed the new abbey with all the land within the parish of Waverley, two acres of meadow at Elstead, and gave the monks permission to cut wood from his woodland at Farnham. Giffard's successor as Bishop of Winchester, Henry of Blois (younger brother of King Stephen) donated a virgate (30 acres) of land at Wandford and gave further rights at Farnham, with permission to "dig turf, heath, stone and sand". Henry's brother King Stephen granted the abbey land at Neatham, and ("at the request of his brother") freed the abbey from the military obligations usually required of feudal landlords (Frankalmoin), and excused the abbey from the payment of certain taxes including the Danegeld. The abbey was freed from further taxes (tithes) by a papal bull issued by Pope Eugenius III in 1147. [2]

Elstead farm village in the United Kingdom

Elstead is a civil parish in Surrey, England with shops, houses and cottages spanning the north and south sides of the River Wey; development is concentrated on two roads that meet at a central green. It includes Pot Common its southern neighbourhood. Hamlets in the parish, marginally separated from the village centre, are Charleshill and Elstead Common, both rich in woodland. Elstead lies between Farnham and Godalming on the B3001 road about 2.2 miles (3.6 km) west of the A3 Milford interchange.

Farnham town in Surrey, England

Farnham is a town in Surrey, England, within the Borough of Waverley. The town is 34.5 miles (55.5 km) southwest of London in the extreme west of Surrey, adjacent to the border with Hampshire. By road, Guildford is 11 miles (17 km) to the east and Winchester a further 28 miles (45 km) along the same axis as London. Farnham is the second largest town in Waverley, and one of the five largest conurbations in Surrey. It is of historic interest, with many old buildings, including a number of Georgian houses. Farnham Castle overlooks the town. A short distance southeast of the town centre are the ruins of Waverley Abbey, Moor Park House and Mother Ludlam's Cave. Farnham is twinned with Andernach in Germany. It is drained by the River Wey which is navigable only to canoes at this point.

Henry of Blois 12th-century Bishop of Winchester

Henry of Blois, often known as Henry of Winchester, was Abbot of Glastonbury Abbey from 1126, and Bishop of Winchester from 1129 to his death. He was a younger son of Stephen Henry, Count of Blois by Adela of Normandy, daughter of William the Conqueror and Matilda of Flanders. Thus, he was a younger brother of Stephen, King of England.

Remains of the 13th-century monks' dormitory Waverleyabbeydormitory.jpg
Remains of the 13th-century monks' dormitory

The abbey's endowment was added to by Adeliza of Louvain (wife of King Henry I), who donated the grange at Northolt. Faramus of Boulogne, nephew of King Stephen, sold the manor of Wanborough to the abbey for 125 marks of silver. The abbey's endowment and privileges were confirmed by charters issued by King Richard I and King John. [2]

Despite the donations, the abbey was described as "slenderly endowed", and was recorded as having an income of only £98 1s. 8d. in the 1291 Taxation Roll. 'A History of the County of Surrey' states: "Contrasted with the vast estates of a foundation like Bermondsey [Abbey], such a modest rent roll sinks into insignificance". Despite the small income, the abbey seems to have been home to a large number of monks, with 120 lay brothers and 70 religious brothers recorded in 1187. [2]

Within the abbey's first 200 years, seven of the abbey's monks were chosen to become abbots at other monasteries. As the first Cistercian Abbey in England, it became motherhouse of several other Cistercian houses: including Garendon Abbey, founded in Leicestershire by Robert de Beaumont, 2nd Earl of Leicester; Forde Abbey, founded in Dorset by Richard de Brioniis; Coombe Abbey, founded in Warwickshire by Richard de Camville; and Thame Abbey, founded in Oxfordshire by Alexander, Bishop of Lincoln. Many of these became mother-houses themselves, to other Cistercian monasteries. For a time, the Abbot of Waverley Abbey claimed precedence over all the other Cistercian Abbots in England; however, this was disputed by the Abbot of Furness Abbey. [2]

The ruins of Waverley Abbey Waverley Abbey ruins - geograph.org.uk - 1167081.jpg
The ruins of Waverley Abbey

13th century

The 13th-century was a difficult time for the abbey. In July 1201 the abbey was flooded "and all but carried away" by a storm which caused the abbey's crops to fail. [2] The abbey was rebuilt during the 13th-century, and much of the remains visible today date from this period. [3] Construction on the new abbey church began in March 1203-04, financed by William, Rector of Broadwater; however, the abbey's monks were struck by famine and forced to beg food from other monastic houses. Following a dispute with the pope, in 1208 King John confiscated all ecclesiastical property; however, the same year he spent "the last days of Holy Week" at Waverley Abbey, and allowed the return of its possessions to allow them to continue the reconstruction of the church. Two years later, after the Cistercian order refused to give in to John's demands for money, John withdrew all of the abbey's privileges. Many of the monks fled the abbey and, in fear, the abbot "fled away by night". King John then issued a decree forbidding any Cistercians to enter or leave the country. In 1212 John confiscated all of the Cistercian Order's property using "false letters" which "reigned their property to him". The situation improved when John's dispute with the pope ended. The persecution of Waverley appears to have ended by October 1214, when the abbot was sent on official business on behalf of the King. The church's construction appears to have carried on throughout the difficult period, as on 10 July 1214 five altars were consecrated by Albin, Bishop of Ferns. In 1225 the abbey was visited by King Henry III; he took communion at the abbey on 16 December 1225. Construction of the church was not completed, however, until 1278 (74/5 years after it began), when Nicholas de Ely, Bishop of Winchester blessed the church in honor of the Virgin Mary. The blessing was followed by a feast supposedly attended by 7,066 people; including six abbots and many knights and ladies. [2]

The abbey's difficult century continued with further floods in 1233; up to 8 ft in height, the flood destroyed several of the abbey's bridges and property. Another flood on 28 November 1265 flooded the abbey's lower buildings forcing the monks "to take refuge in the church". In 1291 the abbey was described as in "grievous poverty" after their crops had failed. [2]

The abbey produced the Annals of Waverley, an important source for the period, but by the end of the thirteenth century the abbey was becoming less important.[ citation needed ]


The Valor Ecclesiasticus of 1535 records the abbey as having a clear annual income of £174 8s. 3½d. As such it was dissolved with the lesser (poorer) monasteries in 1536, as part of King Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries. [2] There were only thirteen monks in the community at the time.

Abbots of Waverley

The following is a list of the abbots of Waverley Abbey. [2]

  • John, died 1128
  • Gilbert, 1128-9
  • Henry, died 1182
  • Henry of Chichester, 1182, resigned 1187
  • Christopher (abbot of Bruerne, Oxfordshire), 1187, removed from office 1196
  • John II. (hospitaller), 1196, died 1201
  • John III. (cellarer), 1201, died 1216
  • Adam (sub-prior), 1216, resigned 1219
  • Adam II. (abbot of Garendon Abbey, Leicestershire), 1219, resigned 1236
  • Walter Giffard (abbot of Bittlesden, Bucks), 1236, died 1252
  • Ralph (abbot of Dunkewell, Devon), 1252, resigned 1266
  • William de London, 1266
  • William de Hungerford, resigned 1276
  • Hugh de Leukenor, 1276, died 1285
  • Philip de Bedwinde, 1285
  • William, occurs 1316
  • Robert, occurs 1335
  • John III., 1344
  • John IV., 1349, died 1361
  • John de Enford, occurs 1385-6
  • William Hakeleston, 1386, died 1399
  • John Brid, 1399–1400
  • Henry, occurs 1433
  • William, occurs 1452
  • William Martyn, 1456
  • Thomas, occurs 1478 and 1500
  • William, occurs 1509
  • John, occurs 1529
  • William Alyng, occurs 1535

History after the Dissolution

Waverley Abbey House: built in 1725 Waverley Abbey House 02.jpg
Waverley Abbey House: built in 1725

Following dissolution the former abbey was granted to Sir William Fitzherbert, who was the treasurer of the king's household. [4] The abbey itself was mostly demolished, with stone reused in local building work [5] including at Loseley Park. [4]

The abbey's stone was also used in the construction of Waverley Abbey House which was built within the former abbey precinct, just north of the core abbey ruins. It was constructed in 1725 for Sir John Aislabie, former Chancellor of the Exchequer, to a design by Colen Campbell, possibly for the use of John's brother William, who had recently returned from India. William died the same year and the house was sold to Charles Child of Guildford, who in turn sold it to Thomas Orby Hunter in 1847.

Later in the century Orby Hunter added wings, with further additions by Sir Robert Rich, 5th Baronet before 1786. [6] [7] It was bought around 1796 by the merchant John (later Poulett) Thomson, from Sir Charles Rich, 1st Baronet. [8] [9] He sold it about 1832 to George Thomas Nicholson, who rebuilt it after a fire in 1833. [7] [10]

In the 20th century Waverley Abbey was owned by the Anderson family. Rupert Darnley Anderson, son of Thomas Darnley Anderson of Liverpool, inherited it from his brother Charles Rupert Anderson in 1894. His father had purchased it around 1869. [11] [12]

Waverley Abbey House is now separated from the ruins by an artificial lake.

Pillbox near Waverley Abbey Pill Box near Waverley Abbey House, Farnham - geograph.org.uk - 92300.jpg
Pillbox near Waverley Abbey

World Wars

During the First World War the house was the first country house to be converted into a military hospital. It treated over 5,000 soldiers. [13]

Part of the former abbey site formed part of the defenses called the "GHQ Line", set up to protect London during the Second World War [14] . The abbey precinct contains numerous WWII relics including anti-tank gun emplacements, [15] [16] possible auxiliary unit bases, [17] "hideouts", [18] pillboxes, [19] [20] [21] "anti-tank pimples" and "cylinders", [22] [23] [24] and anti-tank roadblocks and ditches. [25] [26]


Following the wars Waverley Abbey House became a nursing home. In 1983 it was purchased (and subsequently restored) by the Christian not-for-profit organisation, CWR. [6] The house is currently used by CWR as a training and conference centre.

The ruins of the original abbey are managed by English Heritage and open to the public. [27]

Architectural description and remains

Remains of the undercroft of the lay brothers' refectory Waverley abbey undercroft.jpg
Remains of the undercroft of the lay brothers' refectory

Waverley Abbey followed the typical arrangement of English Monasteries. The Abbey church, which was around 91 meters long, sat to the north of the monastic complex. To the south of the church was the cloister, the eastern range of which contained the chapter house and monk's dormitory. The southern range of the cloister contained the refectory and latrines. The eastern range contained the lay brothers' refectory and dormitory. [4] The cemetery was located to the east and north of the abbey church. [3]

The abbey's immediate precinct occupied around 50 acres, with the River Wey forming the southern and eastern boundaries. In addition to the core abbey complex, the precinct contained buildings such as the brewhouse and features such as fishponds to supply food. [4]

The ruins

Only part of the abbey remains standing, with the ruins dating from the abbey's 13th-century reconstruction. [3] The most substantial remains are that of the vaulted undercroft, or cellar, of the lay brother's refectory, and the walls of the monk's dormitory, which largely survive to roof height. There also survives the remains of the chapter house and traces of the north and south transepts of the abbey church. [4]

Earthworks in the eastern portion of the abbey's precinct reveal the remains of several fishponds and a "water supply system". [4]

The site was excavated by the Surrey Archaeological Society between 1890 and 1903, and the ruins restored in 1966 when the site was under the care of the Ministry of Works. [3]

The ruins, Waverley Abbey House, and the surrounding land were all designated a conservation area in 1989. [28] Waverley Abbey House is protected as a Grade II* Listed Building, [29] while the abbey ruins are also a Scheduled Ancient Monument. [3]

Painting of the ruins of Waverley Abbey by Harry Sutton Palmer, 1906. Harry Sutton Palmer - Waverley abbey near Farnham (1906).JPG
Painting of the ruins of Waverley Abbey by Harry Sutton Palmer, 1906.

Use as a film set

The abbey ruins have been used as a location in the filming of a number of films and television dramas:

Sir Walter Scott chose the name "Waverley" for the hero of his novel Waverley , but he did not suggest that this name was in any way inspired by Waverley Abbey. [38] Waverley Abbey was, however, featured in Arthur Conan Doyle's classical romance, Sir Nigel . It was the scene of his winning of his war horse, Pommers, and his youthful conflict with the abbey authorities.

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